User Fees Fight Ramps Up

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While it's too early to tell what effect the Nov. 7 election results will have on the most pressing legislative issue facing general aviation, something politicians in Washington (the new and the old) can count on hearing plenty about is the aviation user-fee issue. In yesterday's opening general session of AOPA Expo in Palm Springs, AOPA President Phil Boyer said the most crucial period of the lobbying effort is looming as President Bush prepares a budget for presentation in February. That budget must make provisions for funding the FAA and its funding tenure runs out at the end of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2007. Just what the administration intends to do about FAA funding will be hidden in the folds of that massive document. "We'll be looking for blanks in the budget," Boyer said.

Currently, the FAA is funded 77 percent by taxes on aviation fuel (GA's contribution) and ticket taxes (the airlines' share), with 23 percent coming from general revenue. If any of those lines is missing from the next budget, it will mean the administration is looking for other methods of funding the FAA and that almost certainly means user fees. Boyer moderated a panel of GA leaders, including National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President Pete Bunce, and Experimental Aircraft Association President Tom Poberezny, who spoke on a theme common to discussions at other GA conventions that the airlines are driving the user-fee agenda as a means of assuming control of the airspace system while shifting $2 billion in costs to GA. Bunce also noted that user fees will be applied to all FAA activities, not just airspace management. He said that will drive up the cost of aircraft because of fees for certification and other services now provided free.

Also on the panel was Missouri Republican Rep. Sam Graves (who kept his seat Tuesday) who sits on the House Transportation Committee. He said the election result "changes the dynamics considerably," but he didn't say how those changes might affect the debate on FAA funding. He did encourage those attending the session to buttonhole their elected officials and make sure they know about the issue and the potential effects of user fees.